How To Influence the City Budget

March 16, 2017

We’re right in the middle of “budget season,” the time of year when the Mayor and City Council negotiate what will be funded in the upcoming city budget. The budget affects every New Yorker, but how many of us really know how it works, much less how we can have a say in it?

On March 21 the City Council Parks Committee is holding a hearing on the city budget, where the public can present testimony. Testimony is just a formal written or spoken statement that is on the record. Presenting in-person or written testimony at a City Council hearing is one of the most powerful ways of making your voice heard to city government. 

In this article we explain how the city budget process works, and in our accompanying webinar we cover everything you need to know about how to present testimony. Opportunities for you to get involved are in bold. 

The city budget runs on a fiscal year (FY) cycle, beginning July 1 and ending June 30. So this year you’ll be testifying on the FY 2018 budget, which begins July 1, 2017.  

Because other City Council hearings are usually focused on a specific, predetermined topic, budget hearings are your best opportunity to address both general and specific park issues that are important to you. 

Examples of what you can ask for include more funding for cleaning and maintenance of parks, for Partnerships for Parks staff, or better maintenance of street trees. You can ask for more money to be set aside for new playgrounds, or even for an entirely new park. This is just a small sample of the types of things you can address in your testimony.

Below are some of the budget items NY4P is going to be pushing for, and we need your help. If these issues are important to you, too, consider including them in your testimony.

  • We’re calling on the Mayor to add and make permanent, or “baseline,” 150 Maintenance and Operations staff to the budget, for a total cost of $6.7 million. These City Park Workers and Gardeners have been funded by the City Council for the past two years, but the City Council cannot make them permanent. We believe the Mayor should baseline these critical positions.
  • We’re asking the Mayor and City Council to add about $1 million to the budget to allow for 10 new Partnerships for Parks Outreach Coordinators, and 5 new Volunteer Program Assistants to be hired. This would double to the outreach staff at Partnerships, and would allow them to support even more park stewardship groups than ever.
  • We’d like to see $3 million go toward hiring 50 new Urban Park Rangers. Park Rangers act as ambassadors to our urban ecology and open spaces, and can provide many environmental educational opportunities to the children of NYC through their free programming. We believe an investment in this program is more important than ever.
  • We support critical infrastructure projects like daylighting Tibbets Brook in the Bronx, and visionary parks projects such as BQ Green and the Queensway.

There are three parts to the city budget: the Expense Budget, the Capital Budget, and Revenue. When giving testimony on Parks Department funding, you’ll only need to address Expense and/or Capital, depending on what you want to see funded.

The Expense Budget covers the cost of operating and maintaining our parks. This includes staff such as Gardeners and City Parks Workers, street tree maintenance, programming such as educational activities in parks, and funding for basic repairs.

The Capital Budget covers big-ticket infrastructure items, like a new bathroom or “comfort station,” new playground equipment, major repairs, or an entirely new park.

You don’t necessarily need to know if what you want to see funded is Expense or Capital – the City Council will know where to allocate it. But if you do want to know, feel free to contact us and we’ll be happy to help you figure it out!

The whole process begins in January when the Mayor releases the Preliminary Budget. In March and April the City Council holds public hearings on the Preliminary Budget. Each hearing is held by a specific City Council committee, or sometimes multiple committees. You’ll testify at a Parks Committee hearing. To find out when an upcoming hearing is happening, you can search by committee in NYC Legistar, which is the legislative calendar and information center for the NY City Council. Also keep an eye out for emails from NY4P alerting you to upcoming hearings.

The Council then responds to the Mayor’s Preliminary Budget, based in part on what they learn at the public hearings. This is why it’s so important to submit testimony – our elected officials won’t know what New Yorkers want if we don’t tell them!

In April the Mayor issues his Executive Budget. In May the City Council holds another round of hearings, this time on the Executive Budget. The Executive Budget hearings are a chance for the Council to continue their budget analysis and advocacy efforts; however this is not a stage in the budget process when the public can testify. There are ways the public can keep up the pressure during this period of time, usually through letter-writing, petitioning our elected officials about the causes we care about, and holding budget rallies.

Finally in June, once the hearings are over, we get the “handshake” between the Mayor and the Speaker of the City Council, which means that the budget is adopted for the next fiscal year.

Want to know even more? The City Council website has more in-depth information, including current and previous city budgets.

Now that you know all about how the city budget works, watch our webinar on how to give testimony. Then come to the hearing on March 21st to make your voice heard and improve your parks!

Still have more questions? Contact Gabriella Cappo from our Outreach Team, and we’ll be happy to help!

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